Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Les Femmes Fatale: The Best of the Female Action Heroines," by Aimee.

A lot of people don't know that I went to an all women's college (Simmons College in Boston) but once anyone ever found out, there were always several questions that ensued, the most prosaic of these mainly, "what were the girls like?" As if women who attended these schools coalesced into anarchy or hedonism forming impenetrable pacts of femininity. We did not, in fact. If anything we became more vocal and confident in the classroom, more experimental in self-expression with an engaging and receptive peer audience, and more well known than our gender peers in the same area due to our smaller professional atmosphere in which to build a network on. When I look back over those four years, and on the experience of an all women's higher education I am grateful for the opportunities that I was given. Simmons directly shaped the woman I am today. I hope that I can emulate a strong, well educated, professional woman to my students and especially to my teenage girls. With that in mind, I thought it as about time to seriously assess other female role models that society offers up as examples and even more specifically: the lead female actions heroines and the messages they bring to their audience.

"Fictional Heroines: Actual Archetypes."

1. Lara Croft: Lara first appeared in the 1996 video game, Tomb Raider. She was created by Toby Gard, and was most famously portrayed by Angelina Jolie in the two feature films; Tomb Raider and The Cradle of Life. What's notable about Lara is that she does what she wants when she wants and where she wants: she has no man to hold her back. 

Depiction: Lara Croft is depicted as athletic, well-educated, wealthy (as 'Lady' Lara Croft in the English peerage), and independent. Her education and skills include fighting, thievery, self-defense, automobiles,  weaponry, navigating, and linguistic skills, as she is fluent in multiple languages. Her wardrobe is simple, her clothes functional for her occupation and travels. 

Influence: As the "largest opening ever for a movie headlined by a woman," Lara continues to have an influence on a new generation of video gamers and action movie fans. Praise for Lara Croft:  Computer and Video Games said that Lara Croft's debut "wowed the world with her ballsy attitude and tough girl image." Game artist Sandy Spangler listed Lara Croft as an extremely successful character that "broke the mold". (source)

2. Buffy (the Vampire Slayer): Buffy was a character in the 1992 film by the same name, who was later most notably portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar in the t.v. series that ran for six seasons '97-'03. She is a 'vampire and demon slaying cheerleading high school student'. What's notable about Buffy, is that the audience "watches her mature" from a flaky ditz in season one to a full trained battle machine by season six. 

Depiction: Buffy Summers is depicted as a beautiful, athletic high school student. She is limited by her mother and watcher in her social activities and frequently gets into trouble. She falls in love with several "dangerous" men over the course of the seasons, but survives them all. 

Influence:  "The character of Buffy was created to subvert the stereotypical female horror film victim; Whedon wanted to create a strong female cultural icon." (source)

3. Nikita: Famously portrayed by Anne Parillaud, (in Luc Besson's 1990 film) Peta Wilson (in the '97-'01 T.V. series La Femme Nikita) and by Maggie Q in the latest television reboot Nikita (see photo left.) Nikita is recruited from prison (where she was innocently framed and serving a sentence) to become an assassin with Section One/Division. In the latest series she is a spy and assassin who has gone rogue, and she works to bring down Division, who is running special interest black ops all over the globe.

Depiction: Nikita is an assassin. She is trained in hand to hand combat and in every weapon imaginable. She has spy training as well. She operates alone, but has several spotters and aids. 

Influence: "Silverstein (executive producer of the reboot) describes the story as a "dark fairytale. This girl is taken from one life, her identity is erased, she's put in another life and she's transformed. It's like Alice in Wonderland. She's told, "Eat this, drink that, steal this, kill that," and she's not told why. And, she begins to find her own identity through that"." (source)

4. Leeloo (The Fifth Element): Portrayed memorably by Milla Jovovich in the film  The Fifth Element. She is a supreme being at the center of the plot to save the universe. 

Depiction: LeeLoo is a supreme being, so she learns at the speed of a scanning computer. She learns fighting skills from this computer as well as language skills over the course of a single day. She is considered to be "perfect" in body and mind and it was a surprise to everyone (in the movie) when she was discovered to be a female. 

Influence: The Fifth Element became a cult classic and grossed over $260M. The character of Leeloo has had international attention. As a 'supreme being' LeeLoo represents the perfect element: female, strong and smart. 

5. Trinity: Portrayed by Carrie-Anne Moss in the Matrix Trilogy, Trinity embodied female action star and computer programmer extraordinaire. 

Depiction: Trinity is proficient at computer programming and hacking, as well as martial arts and operating motor vehicles. She is also depicted as the lover of Neo, the "Chosen One," who will set the rebels free and she dies trying to help him on his quest to save the world from the machines. 

Influence: "Thanks in large part to Carrie-Anne Moss' steely precision, that first chase scene -- more specifically, that bullet-time crane kick -- became lasered into our collective movie memories. Plus, if the very idea of a hot female computer programmer wasn't enough to earn the adulation of geeks worldwide, Moss' leather-clad Trinity had the power of the Matrix --- and the love of Neo --- at her fingertips." (source)

6. Hermione Granger: Portrayed by the charming and gutsy Emma Watson, Hermione brought a renewed 'cool' to being bookish. The most clever arm of the Hermione- Harry-Ron trio, Hermione helps the wizarding world defeat Lord Voldemort and his wicked crew in the famous Harry Potter books & movies.

Depiction: Emma brought an adorable cuteness to her character's quick candor in the early movies, with unforgettable poofy hair, (something I could identify with, having grown up in the '90's before hair straighteners) and a quick temper to boot. Hermione's growth from child to adult is a journey any girl can relate to, especially as she is constantly educating Harry & Ron about the ways of the world (and girls).

Influence: As a middle school english teacher, I could never thank J.K. Rowling enough for creating Hermione: a bookish, smart and clever heroine for the ages. 

7. Evelyn O'Connell: Portrayed by Rachel Wiesz in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, Evelyn transformed glamorous librarian chic into Mummy butt-kicking. Smart, funny and instrumentally important in translating ancient egyptian which saves the world: Evelyn solidifies herself in female heroism legend. 

Depiction: Bookishly glamorous, Evie becomes more and more comfortable with herself (and with Rick) as the first movie progresses. She transforms into a confident adventurer for the second film. 

Influence: Like other bookish characters, Evie lends a certain air of innocence to her character, who slowly comes to self-awareness as the movies progress, single-handedly fighting off mummy priests, soldiers, and the reincarnation of Anck-Su-Namun.

8. Storm (Ororo Munroe): Into the realm of super-heroines, Storm comes out at the head of the pack. Second behind only Cyclops in rank, Storm harnesses the powers of Mother Nature to her will. 

Depiction: Famously portrayed by Halle Berry in the film trilogy. Storm is athletic, graceful and beautiful, sporting signature grey hair as a symbol of her darker moods and powers.

Influence: Storm was listed as #8 in the Top 25 X-Men list by IGN, behind only Jean Grey, Kitty Pride and Rogue for females. Showing more continuous power and stamina than these others lands her on this list of the top action heroines. 

9. Princess Leia: Played by the iconic Carrie Fisher in The Star Wars Trilogy. Leia is the daughter of Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) and her struggles to lead the Rebel Alliance against him with her brother Luke eventually win freedom for the galaxy.

Depiction: Short but rugged, beautiful and quick-witted, Carrie's Leia wins over even the most sordid of characters: Han Solo. 

Influence: Being predominantly the only leading female in the series, Leia carves out a niche for young girls who grew up loving the movies anyways.

10. Clarice Starling: Portrayed by both Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore in the films Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal (both formerly novels by Richard Harris) Clarice is shown to be of humble roots, but noble F.B.I upbringing, most infamously solving cases with the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. 

Depiction: In both versions, as a redhead, straight-shooting, Western Virginian accented, beautiful, and too smart for her own good, or to get her promoted anyways by her chauvinistic boss.

Influence: As Clarice proves in both films, she is totally capable of self-defense and being independently successful at her career without the help of any men. While Hannibal escapes as the end of the second movie, in the book this is not the case, as they end up together, traveling the world one step ahead of intelligence agencies.